Is The Qur'an's Story Of Solomon & Sheba From The Jewish Targum?

(A response to Muslim objections)


In an article found at: the writers, Muhammad, Saifullah and Hannan (hereinafter collectively referred to as MSH), try to disguise the fact that the story of the Queen of Sheba, to be found in the Qur'an (S. 27:20-444), originates from Jewish mythology and in all probability from an even earlier Middle Eastern legend. They chose two principal means by which to cover up the absurdity of this story appearing in what is claimed to be the 'Word of God', the Qur'an.

1. They make a bitter personal attack on what they see as the originators of the claim, Abraham Geiger and Rev W St Clair-Tisdall, but in doing so greatly weaken any pretence to being scholarly, for personal hate attacks are not scholarly and are the last resort of those whose argument is bankrupt. One has no need to refer to Tisdall or Geiger as the source material and all the relevant supporting evidence is available in any Jewish library and in many good municipal libraries in modern translation.

2. The MSH writers call into question the dating of the Targum of Esther, in which the story appears, and appeal to selective encyclopedia entries, not giving the full background, and disguising the universally accepted scholarly opinion that the Targum of Esther actually originated not only in pre-Islamic but even in pre-Christian times. Furthermore we are here dealing with a specific story and we shall give evidence for this early dating after examining the claims of the MSH writers.

For those who are unaware of what the Targums are, the 2nd Targum of Esther, also known as the Targum Sheni - along with the other Targums, is a translation of the Hebrew Bible into Aramaic originally made at a very early date. Targums contain some embellishments and legends not supported by the Hebrew Bible and these legends, myths, embellishments and commentary are not considered divine revelation by any body of opinion and yet in a number of cases legends and myths from these sources appear in the Qur'an.


(NOTE: Explanatory comments { ... } in quotations originate with the writer of this response)

The first line of attack taken by the MSH writers needs no response and no response is offered by this writer other than to expose the hate directed towards a godly man (Tisdall) in his efforts to put forward the truth about the false claims concerning the divine inspiration of the Qur'an, a hoax which has bedeviled the world for over 1,400 years.

Dating of the Targum of Esther by the MSH writers

The MSH writers choose to present some selective dating material by which they appear to hope to satisfy the unsuspecting reader that the Qur'an is free from Muhammad having included Jewish myths and legends. We will therefore firstly examine the methods and presentation of the MSH writers and secondly present a more detailed analysis for the true dating of the story of the Queen of Sheba as contained in the Targum and in the Qur'an.

1. The MSH presentation.

The MSH writers first call upon the The Jewish Encyclopedia of 1905 in which it is claimed:

1. The first Targum, The Antwerp and Paris polyglots give a different and longer text than the London. The best edition is by De Lagarde (reprinted from the first Venice Bible) in "Hagiographa Chaldaice," Leipsic, 1873. The date of the first Targum is about 700.

It is obvious that this says nothing about the origins of the Targum of Esther or the story of the story of the Queen of Sheba. In fact the dating evidence presented by the MSH writers is nearly exclusively to do with the most ancient manuscript of the Targum rather than the dating of the original, as we shall see.

2. Targum Sheni (the second [Targum]: date about 800), containing material not germane to the Esther story. This may be characterized as a genuine and exuberant midrash.

This statement in the 1905 edition of the Jewish Encyclopedia, if it indeed refers to the origins of the Targums rather than the oldest existing manuscripts, is not substantiated by the wider body of scholarly opinions, some of which will be presented later. It is also interesting to note that the claim presented above by the MSH writers does not appear in the 1925 edition of the Jewish Encyclopedia as evidence for dating the origins of the Targums for reasons which will become clear as we examine later scholarship which links the legend of the Queen of Sheba to comments by Josephus (38 AD to 100 AD) and even earlier Middle Eastern traditions and legends.

The MSH writers then move on to present statements in a more recent publication of the Encyclopaedia Judaica (the 1997 CD-ROM edition) and offer the following extracts

Outstanding among the stories interwoven into the Targum Sheni is the variegated description of Solomon's throne (1:2)..... Some of these motifs are also found in the Koran (27:20-40), and it has been suggested that the author also made use of Arabic sources.

What the MSH writers do not disclose is that these 'Arabic sources' (plural!) is not in reference to the Qur'an but to much earlier legends current in Arabia, Egypt and Ethiopia in pre-Islamic times. We shall examine, later, how historians, scholars and other sources present and comment on these 'Arabic sources' referred to in the above extract.

The MSH writers now move on in their presentation with:

Concerning the composition of Targum Sheni, Encyclopaedia Judaica contains the following passage:

The date of the work cannot be determined exactly. The view of S. Gelbhaus that it belongs to the amoraic period, in the fourth century, is disproved by the fact that it contains later material. P. Cassel dates it in the sixth century and explains its mention of Edom to be the rule of Justinian (527-565). However, this view of Edom can also apply to other periods. A basis for dating was also found among the accusations made by Haman: "They come to the synagogue... and curse our king and our ministers." This statement is regarded as an allusion to the suspicion that Jews combine a curse with the prayer said in the synagogue for the welfare of the kingdom. Since this prayer is thought to have been composed in the eighth century it is conjectured that the Targum Sheni postdates that century. L. Munk puts its date still later, in the 11th century, but he gives no proof. It seems that the most acceptable view is that which places its composition at the end of the seventh or the beginning of the eighth century, a view that is strengthened by its relationship to the Pirkei de-R. Eliezer. Regarding its relationship to the Targum Rishon, there are features common to both Targums, but there are also many differences, and there are many aggadot in the Targum Rishon not included in the Targum Sheni. The view of P. Churgin may be accepted that they are two independent compositions.

I invite the reader to examine this extract with care. Firstly we should note that the MSH writers, in their article, do not clarify what the above extract is actually dealing with. Secondly we should note that this is not a discussion on the 'origin' of the Targum of Esther but a comment on the earliest manuscripts which are available today and even then the editor only offers what is obviously conjecture and even cites L Munk who offered no proof.

It is well known that Jewish Rabbinic literature went through long stages of development beginning with the transmission of oral commentary which was added to until a point was reached when it was written down and then further developed to a point at which the final text was established.

If we are to take at face value at what the MSH writers are implying then this suggestion can be applied equally to the Qur'an to validate the claim that it is to be dated in the 8th Century long after the death of Muhammad. However the MSH writers are always keen to support the early oral transmission of the Qur'an and so it is interesting to see them, by implication, dealing in a double standard when it comes to the origins of the Targum of Esther and specifically the legend of the Queen of Sheba. The evidence for this will be made clear when the wider body of scholarly opinion is examined.

The MSH writers make a final comment before drawing their conclusion:

A brief observation may be offered on the question of the Pirke De-Rabbi Eli'ezer. This work was produced in Asia Minor, during the reign of Islam, which came long after the advent of Islam, itself. And the Christian missionaries have foolishly imagined it to be a source of the Qur'ân.

What the MSH writers do not disclose is that there are at least two ancient manuscripts of the Pirke De-Rabbi Eli'ezer and the ancient Vienna manuscript, which has only in recent years been translated into English, shows every evidence of being pre-Islamic. Further evidence supporting this claim will be presented in another paper dealing specifically with the Qur'anic stories to be found in this work.

Conclusion regarding the claims of the MSH writers

The MSH writers have not provided any evidence to back their hypothesis that the origins of the Targum of Esther or that the legend of the Queen of Sheba, common to the Targum of Esther and the Qur'an, are post-Islamic. Instead they have selectively chosen to present comments on the later redactions of the Targum and have furthermore failed to offer any comment or explanation on the extracts they copy in the hope that the casual reader will look no further for the truth.

In their conclusion the MSH writers claim of Tisdall:

Quite the contrary, the very "source" he had identified has been acknowledged by Judaic scholarship as borrowing from the Qur'ân instead.

Nowhere in their presentation have MSH supported this bold claim. Not one of the extracts they present even suggests that the Targum of Esther borrows the story of the Queen of Sheba from the Qur'an.

They make a further misleading claim:

The revelation of the Qur'ân was long before the compilation of the Second Targum of Esther, making it impossible for the latter to have influenced the former.

It should be noted that they use the term 'compilation of the Second Targum of Esther' yet they have nowhere presented any source which deals with the pre-Islamic origins or the early compilations of the Targum, which are quoted in other early pre-Islamic Jewish works, but have nearly exclusively offered material which deals with the Targums in their final form in which we have them today.

Finally they assert:

From the perspective of academic integrity, such results establish the absurdity not only in Tisdall's theory, but his holy mission as well.

The claim of the MSH writers to 'academic integrity' is a lofty one and we shall leave it to the reader to determine if indeed a few selective extracts from a couple of Encyclopedias on CD Rom allow one to appropriate a claim to 'academic integrity'.

The dating of the 2nd Targum of Esther - Targum Sheni

1. A recent translation into English of the 2nd Targum of Esther which may be found in any good library is:

The Targum of Esther (Second) (Targum Sheni) Translated by Bernard Crossfeld - Professor of Hebrew and Aramaic at the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee, and founding member of the Association for Targumic Studies. Published in 1991 by T & T CLARK LTD, Edinburgh, in co-operation with The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota 56321 USA. ISBN 0-567-09495-8

In his work Professor Crossfeld states in his introduction in regard to the origin of the Targum in its earliest identifiable form that:

The Targum of Esther is mentioned in the Jerusalem Talmud and cited in the Tractrate Sopherim (Xlll:6). Thus its existence is in at least Amoraic times. { i.e. 4th Century }

In another place in his introduction Professor Crossfeld states in connection with the origin of the Targum that it:

Must have begun before the Christian era.

On the same subject the Jewish Encyclopedia 1925 edition by Funk & Wagnalls Company, Vol 12, p 63 states:

In the Masseket Soferim (lc) a quotation from the Targum Sheni to Esther lll is introduced by the words 'Tirgem Tab Yosef' (Rabbi Joseph has translated)

So the Targum, having been quoted in the Jerusalem Talmud, must have had existence at least before the time the Jerusalem Talmud was finally concluded.

On the subject of the dates of the Jerusalem Talmud the Encyclopedea Judaica 1996 edition, Vol 15, p 772, states:

Jerusalem Talmud was compiled about a century before the Babylonian in 500CE. Its close was entirely due to the situation which prevailed in (Erez) Israel. The activities of the main school, that of Tiberius, came to an end in 421 (CE)

This again supports the claim that the Targum existed in pre-Islamic times and at least early enough for the legend of the Queen of Sheba to have travelled to wherever the Jewish community had dispersed throughout Arabia.

2. Notes and references to the legend of the Queen of Sheba

A number of authorities link the legend of the Queen of Sheba to a famous early Jewish writer called Josephus who lived in the 1st century CE and connect the legend as originating in Arabia or Greece prior to that time. I will examine two of these.

In a note on the legend of the Queen of Sheba in the translation to the Targum referred to above on page 117 we read:

1d . 'The incident with the Queen of Sheba has its Biblical basis in 1 Kgs. 10:1-10 and 2 Chr. 9:1-12 In the Targum many parts of the story, such as the riddles, are expanded into detail, while others such as Benayahu's meeting with the queen, are newly created (* meaning created after the OT records) as is the incident involving the hair on the queen's legs and Solomon's comment about it. Post Biblical parallels for the story exist in the following

a) Josephus (antiq viii, vi 5-6 pp 661-665), who refers to her as the queen of Egypt and Ethiopia. R Marcus in his note on this passage (Antiquitates Judaicae 1926 * ref abbreviated) theorizes that Josephus probably knew of some native Egyptian or Ethiopia tradition that connected the queen of the Arabian kingdom (since Sheba was a kingdom in southwestern Arabia according to Gen 10:28; Job 6:19 and Matt 12:42) with Egypt and Ethiopia as in Isa 43:3. He ascribes Josephus' opinion as originating with Herodotus or some Greek source, and BEING PART OF ETHIOPIC LITERATURE (*my emphasis), where Menelik, the first monarch of Abyssinia was considered to be the son of Solomon and one, Makkeda, is identified with the Queen of Sheba.

(The note goes on to quote some additional works which we do not have space to consider. However one refers to a Talmudic story (b. B Bath 15b) which is further evidence of pre-Islamic existence of elements of the legend in the Qur'an.)

On page 118 of the same work we have a note as follows:

Concerning the legend of the queen's hair on her legs, Ginsberg (legends Vol VI p289 n41) links it with an ancient Arabic legend about the story.

I have not been able to obtain a copy of this work and so I regret I cannot add to what Ginsberg claims in this quotation, however there is more evidence for this claim other than that which the MSH writers extracted from the Encyclopedia Judaica on 'Arabic sources' in their paper, which reads:

Outstanding among the stories interwoven into the Targum Sheni is the variegated description of Solomon's throne (1:2)..... Some of these motifs are also found in the Koran (27:20-40), and it has been suggested that the author also made use of Arabic sources.

However this extract which the MSH writers present is edited and selective. This is what the 1996 edition, Vol 13, p 1424, also says:

.... a most elaborate account, however given in the Targum Sheni to Esther which can be supplemented by details found in the Alphabet of Ben Sira and JOSEPHUS (Ant 8:165 - 73) - A Hoopoe { Hudhud } informed Solomon that the kingdom of Sheba was the only kingdom on earth not subject to him and its queen was a sun worshipper.

In later Arabic literature under the influence of her name given by Josephus as Nikaulis the name of the Queen of Sheba (Saba) is given as Bilquis.

It seems that the MSH writers are not too keen on their readers knowing about the parallels in Josephus or the claimed influence his writings may have had on Jewish tradition which appears to have found its way into the Qur'an.

Furthermore Josephus was not alone among the early Jewish writers to comment on the legends of the Queen of Sheba. Rabbi Jonathan also surmises as to who this Queen of legend was when commenting on Josephus (Jewish Encyclopedia 1925 ed, Vol XI, p 235).

For the sake of space I leave out an examination of the ancient Ethiopic claims concerning the origins of their royal line of kings which have their origin in the legends of the Queen of Sheba - however I believe we have sufficient information already presented to draw some conclusions concerning the claims of the MSH writers.


1.   As can be seen by an analysis of the presentation by the MSH writers they have singularly failed to establish a post-Islamic origin for the legendary and mythical story of the Queen of Sheba as contained in the Qur'an.

2.   From a wider review of scholarly opinion on the dating and origins of the Qur'anic story of the Queen of Sheba as paralleled in the 2nd Targum of Esther we can rightly determine:

a.   That the 2nd Targum of Esther, in origin, is indeed pre-Islamic and arguably even pre-Christian.

b.   That the story of the Queen of Sheba as contained in the Targum and as found in the Qur'an and later medieval Islamic writings (according to Ginsberg) do in all probability originate with some very ancient Arabian or Greek legend.

3.   Rather than accept the arguments of the MSH writers there is every evidence that Muhammad, who claimed prophethood, heard of Jewish legends from a number of sources (as documented in Islamic writings) and incorporated them in what he claimed to be divine revelation.


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